When Ellen Holen started stitching her sons’ old neckties into a colorful silk quilt some seven decades ago on a central Nebraskan farm, she was probably just being practical, not trying to create a work of art. After all, it was during the Great Depression and she had 10 children — they couldn’t afford to waste much.
If she were alive today, Ellen would probably be startled to see her quilt on display in the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s Renwick Gallery as part of the traveling exhibit Going West! Quilts and Community, which features rare quilts pieced together by pioneering women on the American prairie during the 19th and early 20th century.
The Holen Boys Ties Quilt is just one of 50 such quilts on display, but it was the star of the show last Friday afternoon when nearly 100 Holens from four generations gathered at the museum as part of a family reunion.